“When we drop the compulsive habit of trying to fix ourselves, and replace it with a growing capacity to meet ourselves exactly as we are with presence, compassion and unconditional acceptance, transformation occurs by itself”Matt Nettleton; Co-Founder and Trainer of Embodied Processing – “The Bottom Up Approach to Healing Trauma and Nervous System Dysregulation
Embodied Processing (a form of Somatic Therapy) will help you identify and integrate ‘stuck’ emotions and imprints of stress and trauma, completing the stress cycle within the body and relieving symptoms including chronic pain.
The foundational process is very similar to all somatic therapies in the sense we build resource and safety, whilst at the same time growing capacity to contain uncomfortable sensations to bring about a natural completion and integration. Embodied Processing also looks into psychological content in the form of inquiry where it is useful to find the origin of the stress, which is particularly useful for developmental trauma.
An example to describe the release of chemicals and emotions: an animal runs away from a predator. As well as the chemicals are released to support the stress response, the stress that is created in the animal’s body needs to then be released. The animal will shiver or shake itself following an attack, in order to complete the stress cycle.
As humans we are not very good at completing the stress cycle: While we are unlikely to be in life or death situations regularly, our brains treat everyday stresses (a full inbox or running late for something) in the same way. If we don’t move enough to complete the stress cycle, those emotions and chemicals can continue to course through our bodies and manifest as pain.
Embodied Processing is a Somatic Therapy
Embodied Processing is ‘bottom up’ approach for Trauma and Nervous System Dysregulation which can help us process and complete the aforementioned stress cycle. It is drawn on the understanding that trauma is stored in the physical body and needs to be resolved there as well as using the felt sense as a gateway to access stored stress in the nervous system.
The Body Mind Connection
For many centuries, philosophers have asked the question of whether the body and mind are linked, or separate. Western society typically treats them as two different things. However, this is changing. If you visit your doctor with a physical ailment they are likely to enquire about your emotional health, such as stress levels, as well as how your body feels. It can be very helpful to listen to what your body is telling you.
Our body is inextricably involved in how we feel. Think about when you are scared: you might feel your heart racing or your stomach flipping. Or when you are feeling upset: you feel your heart sinking, or your stomach tied in knots. We feel all of our emotions directly in the physical body, but we often don’t pay attention to these parts of the experience, we just concentrate on our thoughts.
Learn to listen to your body
Being more connected with your body can be described as being ‘embodied’. This is a way of being that can be worked on and improved over time, with very simple exercises. Mindfulness can be a good starting place, taking time to notice what you are feeling and where you feel it in the body. Other ways are by engaging in more physical practices, such as yoga, pilates, dance or any other movement practice where you can focus on the movement of your body and your breath.
However, some people find it very difficult to be in touch with their bodies. People with a history of trauma have often learnt to dissociate from their physical feelings in order to cope with difficult emotions. Working with a trauma-informed therapist like myself can help you to slowly learn how to get back in touch with your body.
Disconnection from the body is also very common with people who have been taught from an early age that feeling a certain emotion is bad, anger is a good example of this, it is very British to be told to ‘keep calm and carry on’. Disconnection from the body can also occur as a result of having to cope with chronic pain. Here, it can be extremely helpful to combine Somatic Therapy with physical therapy like Myofascial Release and Massage.
In every aspect of my work, I take an embodied approach to therapy. I include techniques such as breathwork and grounding exercises to help you stay regulated during the sessions. This is particularly important aspect of Embodied Processing and is helpful when working with anxiety, where our bodies try to take us into ‘fight or flight’ mode to survive. Equally, clients with feelings of stuckness and depression can use the body to move out of the ‘freeze’ state, which is our species’ earliest survival technique.
Whatever your current relationship to your body, take a moment today to check in with yourself. How do you feel? How is your breathing? Where are you holding some stress? Somatic therapy can help you to take this journey further, and reconnect the whole of your self, mind, body and soul.
The brain as a protector
It is hard to feel, let alone find a healthy and safe way to express your feelings, if they feel painful or unsafe to even acknowledge.
Often, where this is the case, your subconscious mind will ‘protect you’ from those unsafe feelings by repressing them, so you may not even know they are there. Another way your brain may try to protect you is by distracting you from those unsafe feelings, cue chronic pain.
This is a very normal nervous system response to stress and trauma. The problem with your brain ‘protecting’ you in this way, protecting you from the ‘unsafe’ feelings, you might also find you are unable to access other, more positive feelings which would otherwise bring joy.
Embodied Processing; ‘bottom up’ Somatic Inquiry for Trauma and Nervous System Dysregulation
When it comes to managing stress and your emotions, your brain gives you two options; You can learn to regulate from the top down or from the bottom up.
Top down regulation involves strengthening your capacity to monitor your body’s sensations. Cognitive behavioural techniques are helpful here, however, are not enough to switch off the brain’s danger signals.
Bottom up regulation involves recalibrating the autonomic nervous system. We can access this through breath, movement and touch.
When dealing with the brain you have a left and a right side – rational and emotional. When the alarm bell of the emotional brain goes off to signal you are in danger, no amount of insight or reason will silence it. The reason for this is our survival drive is stronger than our personal sense of willpower.
It’s not enough for your rational brain to tell you you’re safe, you need to FEEL safe. Hence the importance of developing a felt sense of safety. This is where Embodied Processing can help.
Life experiences which involve emotional distress, survival stress and / or trauma are often stored as unprocessed constrictions in our body. This is usually because at the time it didn’t feel safe, consciously or subconsciously, to process the feelings related to those experiences.
Embodied Processing is a technique used to safely meet and digest unprocessed life experience. We will create a safe space to focus on your direct bodily experience and the sensations and emotions that arise.
How can Embodied Processing help you?
A somatic therapy like Embodied Processing can be helpful for a range of concerns, but it is particularly supportive for the following:
- Chronic pain
- Addictive behaviours
- Digestive disorders